In the town of Changsha, China, in the 1990s, the mother of last year’s Miss World Canada watched as her 3-year-old daughter folded one handkerchief after another into perfect squares, smoothing each with a delicate touch — and worried that her little girl wouldn’t grow up with enough gumption to face the real world.
So she put young Anastasia on a rigorous routine of physical exercise and culture lessons. She learned English, piano, how to cross shaky log bridges by herself. Every day at 6 a.m she hiked up a mountain, at the peak of which her mother would have her shout English vocabulary words to improve her enunciation. Soon she’d climb trees better than a boy, making her father wonder if her toughening-up had gone too far. After school would be Chinese calligraphy lessons in the grand, stone-paved lecture halls of Yuelu Academy, one of China’s four ancient universities.
“My mom forced me to write for hours each day,” Lin recalls. “Huge characters. I would dip the brush in water and write across the stones of the entire lecture hall. And the brushes were thicker than my arms, I remember.”
Anastasia Lin won the Miss World Canada crown on a platform of human rights and religious freedom, particularly for her native China, where religious persecution and state-orchestrated abuse of citizens is rampant.
“The victims — they have absolutely no avenue of recourse within their own borders,” she said in her award video. “International solidarity and support is crucial to their survival.”
That Lin ended up in the world of beauty pageants may seem coincidental. However, her will to lead and inspire is innate.
As a little girl, she wanted to be the president of a country, or a lawyer, since her father said she used to “argue a lot and never stop defending my idea until I’m proven wrong.”
“It just looked so cool that those people were speaking in public and inspiring people,” she said. “To have that kind of focus is quite amazing.”
When I asked her about her role models, I was half expecting someone like Eleanor Roosevelt, but she named Socrates and Jesus.
“When I read Socrates’s texts, I feel so connected. His conviction and his logic is almost identical to mine. I can follow him so closely and it’s almost as if he said what I want to say so badly.”
When Socrates was sentenced to death by poison, she said, referring to Plato’s text Crito, “he faced death with such poise and tranquility.”
Eventually, she realized that politics and law weren’t for her, and fell in love with acting as a medium to raise awareness about issues dear to her. From the age of 18, she performed in human-rights films, the latest of which, Bleeding Edge, from Peabody-winning director Leon Lee, comes out in December. Lin has appeared in over 20 films and television productions. She often works at the confluence of activism and acting, playing roles that carry messages of freedom, human rights, and ethics. Her films have received the Gabriel Award for Best Feature Film, the Mexico International Film Festival’s Golden Palm Award, and the California’s Indie Fest Award of Merit. Lin also won the Best Leading Actress in a TV Movie at the Leo Awards in 2016.
A lonely road
Lin made her first bid for Miss World Canada in 2013. It was and continues to be a lonely road, not least because her parents, long separated, live one in China and the other on the Canadian West Coast, far from her current home of Toronto.
The idea of participating in pageants was first planted in 2005, when she went on a lark to hear Miss World Canada 2003 Nazanin Afshin-Jam speak at a Vancouver human-rights event.
“Then I saw what could be done by a beauty queen,” Lin said.
Using this platform to advocate for religious freedom requires strength and grace, both of which Anastasia has developed plenty. By all accounts, her mother is proud. Oh, and Anastasia still folds her hankies neatly.
“I drink at least one leafy green smoothie every day. Sometimes when I need to go on a diet I have more than one.”
Tiramisu. Chocolate truffles. “Worst-case scenario? Ferrero Rocher!”
Wellness and fitness
“I love sports — I just don’t like to play ball.”
Golf: “My whole family plays golf.”
Falun Dafa’s Meditation: “I try to do it before I go to sleep at night.”
Visit Anastasia Lin website.